I recently had an opportunity to tour around the new Darwin Centre 2 (DC2) building at the Natural History Museum, London. The building's construction phase is almost over, and it is now about to start being fitted out for public and staff access. DC2 will house most of the NHM’s 30 million+ insect and plant specimens in a 65-metre-long, eight-storey-high cocoon, and provide state of the art labs and office space from most members of the NHM's Entomology and Botany department. The cocoon sits in a glass atrium with workspaces at either end linking the Waterhouse building with the first phase of the Darwin Centre (DC1). The latter houses the NHM's spirit preserved material and the NHM's Zoology department.
Ebbe Nielson (1950-2001) was the director of the Australian National Insect Collection at CSIRO, and a leader in what was at the time, the emerging discipline of biodiversity informatics. In recognition of Ebbe Nielson's seminal role in the field of Biodiversity Informatics, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) in 2002 instigated the Ebbe Nielson prize. This award is given annually to "a promising researcher who is combining biosystematics and biological diversity informatics research that supports the objectives of GBIF in an exciting and novel way." For 2008, I was lucky enough to win the award! Needless to say am absolutely delighted. What follows is a gushing thank you to those who have helped contribute to me winning this prize! For those sensitive to such sentimentalism, look away now!
The past three months (June-August 08) have been extremely busy with conferences, travel and grant applications. Consequently I have been very slack with my recent blogging. In an effort to make recompense, here is a brief update on what I have been up to, and what is coming up. Over the next few days I'll try to expand on a few of these:
Today (July 1st 2008) marks an important anniversary – the 150th birthday of the first public announcement on natural selection. On July 1st 1858 Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker read out an essay by Alfred Russell Wallace and two unpublished excerpts from Charles Darwin’s writings at meeting of the Linnean Society of London. One month later these documents were published together in the Society's journal. To mark this seminal event in the history of biology, my friend and colleague George Beccaloni has written an essay that outlines the background to this discovery and some of the controversy that followed. The definitive version of this essay is available from the Wallace Fund website, but George has allowed me to post a copy here.
Rod Page recently alerted me to iNaturalist. This is a very beautiful website that invites you to “record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world”. It is essentially a mashup of content from Wikipedia and flickr, pinned around the Catalogue of Life classification. Users can submit their own observation data linked with photos through their flickr account, and build life lists of the species they have seen. There are Google Map mashups and a neat time-line that allows users to see the date of their observations (something that would be vital for birders). You can also submit requests for species identifications through a forum, along the lines of the flickr group “ID Please”.
A couple of my presentations (as of May 12, 08) have been featured on the front page of the SlideShare website. They have chosen a recent one I gave as part of the Voyage of Discovery lecture series at the NHM, and an old one on the Scratchpad project. After messing about with SlideShare and Google Docs I decided to opt for SlideShare.
Wow – I got an invite to Nature and O’Reilly’s Science Foo camp 2008! Without question my experiences last year led me to conclude that this was simply the best science gathering ever. To get reinvited back is a real honor. This unconference brings together people working on the bleeding edge of their fields, who are helping to define the future of science, art and technology. The eclectic mix of invitees dynamically build a schedule over the course of the meeting, which (as in previous years) is held over three days this August at Googleplex in Mountainview, CA. As George Dyson noted from last years experience, the resulting schedule presents you with "the impossible choice" of deciding which sessions to attend.
Roger Price, Kevin Johnson and Bob Dalgleish have done me the honor of naming a second new louse species after me. This compliments Neopsittaconirmus vincesmithi (suborder Ischnocera), which was named after me late last year from Bourke's parrot (Neopsephotus bourkii).
The complete proceedings of London’s Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey) have recently gone online. This fantastic website allows users to view the details of almost 200,000 criminal trials held at the court from 1674 to 1913. I have already spent several hours browsing the site! Since this digitization project has many parallels with the Biodiversity Heritage Library (a project to scan the literature describing all 1.8 million known species) I thought I’d compare the two:
Mid-April I attended the first review of the Encyclopedia of Life Biodiversity Informatics Group (BIG). This is the team based at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole that is charged with delivering the web component of the Encyclopedia of Life project. As a member of EOL’s Informatics Advisory Group (IAG) we were present to take stock of the bioinformatics component one year in to this ten-year project. The review culminated in report that highlights priorities for BIG in the coming months. Rod Page sets out the tone of this review inEOL’s official blog, and I hope that the full document will be publicly available soon. In the mean time here are a few personal impressions based on the major themes from the meeting: